We picked up our rental car in Walterboro, SC, selecting a 3-door Hyundai with a hatchback and fold-down rear seats, ideal for transporting our bike and gear. The rest of the morning was spent dismantling and packing the bicycle and transferring the camping gear and whatever bike gear wouldn’t fit in the cases to the big duffel. One of the 30-year-old front panniers had been breached by a loading problem that allowed a portion to drag on the pavement in left turns, so it was left in the trash. The other we kept, for now, with a few extra items.
We used the car to find a good Mexican Restaurant in town and espresso, at Dunkin Donuts, of all places. I can’t recall having been in one since leaving Newport over 35 years ago, so ordered a French Cruller, those light, eggy “tractor wheel” donuts I used to get, “back in the day.” They didn’t have espresso, then. We also stopped at Walmart to add to our only set of street clothes and replace the small, worn duffel bag we had thrown away in Orlando after loading the bike panniers. Unlike the fictional wandering scourge of bad guys, Lee Child’s Jack Reacher character, we did not throw out our old clothes, though at the cost of laundromats, it might be cheaper. The laundry in Walterboro took a debit card, which cost $2 plus whatever value needed to wash clothes: another patron had an extra one, empty, so we gratefully accepted hers, reloaded it with enough to wash and dry a load ($5), and passed it on to yet another customer, with enough value left for 10 minutes dryer time.
The next morning, we set out toward Charleston, stopping by the Walterboro airport to visit the Tuskegee Airmen Memorial: this is where the famous group of African-American fighter pilots had their final training before entering combat in Europe. With only the bicycle GPS, we got lost several times on the way to Charleston, and have since switched to using Judy’s iPhone mapping app. We did set out on the road we would have ridden, US 17-A, and found it even more heavily trafficked and just as badly repaired as the many miles we had already ridden. In the days since, we have daily reaffirmed our decision to abandon the bicycle tour: many of the roads we have traveled have been uncomfortable and dangerous even in a car, due to poor repair, poor construction, and heavy traffic.
Arriving finally in Charleston, we headed across the Ravenel Bridge to Mount Pleasant, where we took a tour boat to Fort Sumter, the island fortress at the mouth of the harbor where the first shots were fired in the War Between the States (aka, the War of Northern Aggression [Confederacy] or the Civil War [Union]. The fort had been reduced to mostly rubble by both sides during the war 1861-1865 war, with a blocky “new” section added during the Spanish-American War of 1898.
With the advantage (or liability) of a car, we stayed 30 km outside the city, at Goose Creek, where low motel costs offset the cost of fuel to get there. We found an excellent Mexican restaurant within walking distance (on a rough trail along the highway — no shoulder, no walkway) and had black bean and portabello tacos. The next day, we drove downtown and parked near the corner of Queen and King streets and took a horse-drawn carriage tour of part of the historical district, near the University of Charleston, one of three routes randomly chosen for the carriages. Afterward, we had a vegetarian lunch at a middle-eastern restaurant near the market, where we learned this was their last week after 10 years, due to loss of lease. In the afternoon, we took a walking tour to parts of the historic district we didn’t cover by carriage, then back to Goose Creek.
The next morning, wrapping up our third week on tour, we took the I-526 bypass to Mount Pleasant, then up US 17, covering in a day what would have taken a week of long rides on bad roads on the bicycle, something we would not have been capable of, due to our slow speed and the effects of too many days in the saddle fighting headwinds and rough roads. We enjoyed a quick tour through the historic district of Georgetown, and were astonished at the 60-km commercial strip that is Myrtle Beach and its suburbs. In the 43 years or so since I last visited what used to be a championship golf mecca (in my case, the venue for a business conference–selected by our golfing bosses), the Beach has been transformed. The US 17 strip was filled with Disneyesque theme-park miniature golf courses in multiple versions of pirate, jungle, dinosaur, volcano, and other exotic themes, alternating with huge storefronts selling beachwear or surfing equipment, with a dozen or more pancake houses and scores of other restaurants, resorts, and hotels.
We soon crossed into North Carolina, stopping for lunch at a bistro in downtown Wilmington and coffee in Jacksonville before crossing the spectacular bridge at New Bern and turning north away from the coast to overnight at Chocowinity, just outside Washington, NC, deviating from our planned bicycle tour path to avoid the expensive auto ferry to the Outer Banks.